Tuesday – Sixth Week of Great Lent – Ladder Readings



17. The solitary is an earthly image of an angel who with the paper of love and letters of zeal has freed his prayer from sloth and negligence. The solitary is he who openly declares: O God, my heart is ready. The solitary is he who says: I sleep, but my heart is awake.

18. Shut the door of your cell to your body, the door of your tongue to speech, and the inner gate to evil spirits.

19. The patience of the sailor is tested in the midday heat or when he is becalmed; and the lack of necessaries tries out the perseverance of the solitary. When the one gets discouraged he swims in the water, and when the other gets despondent he mixes with crowds.

20. Do not fear noisy trifles, for mourning does not know cowardice and is not scared by them.

21. Those whose mind has learned true prayer converse with the Lord face to face, as if speaking into the ear of the Emperor. Those who make vocal prayer fall down before Him as if in the presence of the whole senate. But those who live in the world petition the Emperor amidst the clamour of all the crowds. If you have learned the art of prayer scientifically, you cannot fail to know what I have said.

22. Take up your seat on a high place and watch, if only you know how, and then you will see in what manner, when, whence, how many, and what kind of thieves come to enter and steal your clusters of grapes.

23. When the watchman grows weary he stands up and prays; and then he sits down again and courageously takes up his former task.

24. One who had learnt about this from experience wanted to tell others about it exactly and in detail, but he was afraid in case he should damp the enthusiasm of those already practising it, or frighten off with the noise of his words those who were making up their minds to embark upon it.

25. He who goes into subtle and learned discussions on solitude stirs up demons against himself, for he has no one else to hold up their indecencies to contempt.

26. He who has attained to solitude has penetrated to the very depth of the mysteries, but he would never have descended into the deep unless he had first seen and heard the noise of the waves and the evil spirits, and perhaps even been splashed by these waves. The great Apostle Paul confirms what we have said. If he had not been caught up into Paradise, as into solitude, he could never have heard the unspeakable words. The ear of the solitary will receive from God amazing words. That is why in the book of Job that all-wise man said: “Will not my ear receive amazing things from Him?”

27. The solitary is one who runs away from all company though without hatred, just as others run towards it though without enthusiasm. He wishes to go on receiving the divine sweetness.

28. Go and distribute immediately (because to sell would take a long time) all that thou hast, and give to the poor monks, so that in their prayers they may accompany you to solitude. And take up thy cross, and carry it with the help of obedience, and vigorously bear the burden of the loss of thy will, and for the future come and follow Me to union with most blessed solitude, and I will teach you the visible activity and life of the spiritual powers. They never weary of praising their Maker to all eternity, and he who ascends to the heaven of solitude never ceases to praise his Creator. Immaterial spirits will not think about the material, nor will those who have become immaterial in a material body think about food. The first will not be aware of food, and the second will need no promise of it. The former do not think about money and possessions, nor do the latter think about the malice of the evil spirits. Those in heaven above have no desire for the visible creation, and those here on earth below have no desire for things perceived by the senses. The former will never cease to advance in love, and the latter vie with them daily. Those are well aware of the wealth of their progress, and these are conscious of their love of the ascent. Those will not stop until they reach seraphic perfection, and these will not weary until they become angels. Blessed is he who hopes; thrice-blessed is he who has the promise; but he who has the reality is an angel.


Different Aspects of Solitude and How to Distinguish Them.

29. In all the sciences, as everyone knows, there are differences of opinion and aim. For everything is not perfect in all, either from want of industry or from lack of strength. Therefore some enter this harbour, or rather this sea, or perhaps this abyss, because they lack control of their tongue or because of a past habit of the body; others because they are without control of their temper and the poor wretches cannot overcome this in crowded society; others because out of conceit they have judged it better to sail at their own discretion than under direction; others because amidst material things they cannot abstain from such; some with the intention of cultivating zeal by solitude; others to torment themselves secretly for their faults; and some in order to acquire glory for themselves from it; others again (if only the Son of Man when He comes may find such on earth) are wedded to holy solitude out of a delightful thirst for the love and sweetness of God, but they do not achieve this union before they have divorced all despondency; because fellowship with despondency would seem like adultery to anyone who is united with God.

30. As far as my meagre knowledge permits (for I am like an unskilled architect) I have constructed a ladder of ascent. Let each look to see on which step he is standing: Is it self-will, or human glory, or weakness of tongue, or hot temper, or too great attachment? Is it to atone for faults, or to grow more zealous, or to add fire to fire? The last shall be first, and the first last. The first seven are the activities of this world’s week, some acceptable, and some unacceptable. But the eighth clearly bears the seal of the world to come.

31. Watch, solitary monk, be vigilant at the times when wild beasts prowl; otherwise you will not be able to adapt your snares to them. If despondency which you have divorced has completely left you, then the task will be superfluous. But if she still puts herself forward, then I do not know how you can live in solitude.

32. Why did the holy fathers of Tabennisi never have so many lights as those of the Scete? Understand this who can. I cannot speak, or rather, I do not wish to.

33. Some diminish the passions, others sing psalms and spend most of their time in prayer, while some apply themselves to contemplation, and live their life in profound contemplation. Let the question be investigated after the manner of the ladder. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it in the Lord.

34. There are idle souls living in monasteries, and by indulging in what nourishes their idleness they come to complete ruin. But there are also souls who through living with others strip themselves of their idleness. And the same thing often occurs not only with the careless, but with the zealous too.

35. We can apply this same rule to solitude. For it is true that many whom the solitary life has received as experienced it has rejected for wilfulness, convicting them of desire to please themselves; while others who have come to this way of life have been more zealous and fervent through fear and anxiety about the condemnation that they will have to bear.

36. He who is still troubled by bad temper and conceit, by hypocrisy and remembrance of wrongs, should never dare to set foot in the solitary way, lest he gain distraction and nothing else. But if anyone is clear of these, he will know what is best – and yet I think, perhaps not even he.

37. Here are the signs, courses and proofs of those who are practising solitude in the right way: an unruffled mind, sanctified thought, rapture towards the Lord, recollection of eternal torments, the urgency of death, constant hunger for prayer, unsleeping vigilance, wasting away of lust, ignorance of attachment, death to the world, loss of gluttony, a sure understanding of divine things, a well of discernment, a truce accompanied by tears, loss of talkativeness, and many such things which the common run of men are wont to find quite alien to them.

38. And here are the signs of those who are practising solitude in the wrong way: dearth of (spiritual) wealth, increase of anger, a hoard of resentment, diminution of love, growth of vanity; and I will be silent about all the rest which follow.

39. But our chapter has now reached the point at which we must consider the case of those living in obedience; all the more so because this chapter is especially meant for them.

40. The signs of those who are lawfully, unadulterously, and sincerely wedded to this orderly and fair obedience, both in reality and according to the teaching of the inspired Fathers, are these – and everyday (if only we have consecrated a day to the Lord) they reach forward and obtain increase and progress so that they become perfect in due time: an increase of elementary humility, a lessening of bad temper (for how can it not decrease as the gall is exhausted?), dissipation of darkness, access of love, estrangement from passions, deliverance from hatred, diminution of lust through continual scrutiny, ignorance of despondency, increase of zeal, compassionate love, banishment of pride. This is the achievement which all should seek, but few attain. A well without water does not deserve the name. And what follows, he who is capable of thought already knows.


41. A young wife who has not been faithful to her marriage bed has defiled her body; and a soul who has not been faithful to his vow has defiled his spirit. Reproach, hatred, thrashings and, most wretched of all, separation will befall the first. The other will have to face: pollution, forgetfulness of death, insatiability of stomach, lack of control of the eyes, working for vainglory, pining for sleep, hardening of the heart, deadness and insensibility, rank growth of wrong thoughts and an inclination to allow them, captivity of the heart, disturbance of spirit, disobedience, contradiction, attachment, unbelief, scepticism, talkativeness and, worst of all, free familiarity; and still more wretched, a heart without compunction which in the negligent is followed by indifference, the mother of devils and falls.

42. Out of the eight evil spirits, five assail those practising solitude, and three those living in obedience.

43. He who is practising solitude and fighting despondency often suffers great harm, for he wastes time which should be given to prayer and contemplation in tricks and wrestlings to battle against it.

44. Once, having become slack, I was sitting in my cell and thinking of leaving it. But some people came to me and began to praise me not a little for my solitary life, and at once the thought of slackness gave place to the thought of vainglory. And I was amazed at how this three-horned demon opposes all the other spirits.

45. Observe every hour the slaps and flicks, the inclinations and changes of your companion (i.e. the spirit of despondency) and see how and where they are directed. He who has obtained calmness through the Holy Spirit is familiar with this spectacle.

46. The preliminary task of solitude is the disengagement from all affairs, whether laudable or not; for he who allows even laudable ones will certainly fall into those which are not. The second task of solitude is earnest prayer. And the third is inviolable activity of the heart. It is physically impossible for one who does not know the alphabet to study books. It is still more impossible for one who has not attained to the first to pass in the right way to the last two tasks.

47. Engaged in the middle task, I was among the middle orders; and an angel enlightened me, thirsting as I was. And again I was among them, and when I asked: “What was the Lord before He took visible form?” the angel could not tell me, for he was not allowed. So I asked him: “In what state is He now?” He replied: “In the state proper to Him, but not in this (our state).” I asked: “What is the meaning of the standing and sitting on the right hand of the Father?” He said: “It is impossible to grasp these mysteries by hearing with the human ear.” I implored him on the spot to lead me where my longings drew me, and he said: “The hour has not yet come, because the fire of incorruption does not yet burn sufficiently within you.” Whether I was then with this earth, I know not; or out of it – I am quite unable to say.

48. It is difficult to overcome the midday nap, especially in the summer time; then, and perhaps only then, is manual work permissible.

49. In my experience the demon of despondency prepares and clears the way for the demon of lust, so that by violently weakening the body and plunging it in sleep the latter may produce pollutions in those practising solitude by means of a lifelike dream. If you resist these demons vigorously, then they will certainly launch a violent attack upon you in order to make you stop your labours on the ground that you are doing yourself no good. But nothing can prove the defeat of the demons so clearly as the violence with which they attack us.

50. When you come out of solitude, guard what you have gathered. When the cage is opened, the birds fly out. And then we shall find no further profit in solitude.

51. A small hair disturbs the eye, and a small care ruins solitude; because solitude is the banishment of thoughts and ideas, and the rejection of even laudable cares.

52. He who has really attained to solitude does not give a thought to his flesh; for He who has promised will not prove false.

53. He who wishes to present his mind pure to God, and is agitated by cares, is like a man who has tied his legs tight together and then expects to walk briskly.

54. Those who are thoroughly versed in secular philosophy are indeed rare; but I affirm that those who have a divine knowledge of the philosophy of true solitude are still more rare.

55. He who has not yet known God is unfit for solitude and exposes himself to many dangers. Solitude chokes the inexperienced; not having tasted the sweetness of God, they waste time in being taken captive, robbed, made despondent, and subjected to distractions.

56. He who has experienced the good which comes from prayer will shun crowds like a wild ass; for what, if not prayer, makes him like a wild ass and free from all contact with people?